Hot on the heels of a post about minimalism, I am posting about the benefits of ethical shopping. Aren’t the two mutually exclusive? I don’ think so.
We have so many problems globally and nationally that are a direct result of addiction to consumption. We are literally spending ourselves into a deeper, darker hole every year. Deciding to go minimalist is a wonderful step in combating this issue because it allows us to take a time out and evaluate what our values are. Once we see that “things” do not bring us happiness we can concentrate on our families, our hobbies, and all the activities and pastimes that truly add to the enjoyment of our lives… things which cannot be packaged in paper or plastic. With less consumption comes less stress about money and keeping up with a lifestyle that advertisements tell you should be your goal. Getting out of that consumer trap is very liberating and brings a sense of true freedom.
But I liken this tactic to going into a restaurant and being very dissatisfied with the way they do business so you simply decide to avoid eating out any more. The eatery will lose many customers but there will always be some who decide that what this particular place offers is the best their gonna get and keep going there. The eatery will also open up a few other locations under different names so that unhappy customers will think they are taking their business elsewhere but in actuality they are still supporting the same bad company. Nothing much changes. You could decide though that you will eat out on special occasions but only at places you have thoroughly vetted and that meet your demands for ethical business practices. You could also encourage your friends to eat at the winning places you have found. The bad business will start to notice that they are losing customers to these other businesses and will be none to happy. Even after extensive ad campaigns they see their competition getting an increasingly greater share of the market. They have no choice but to change the way they do business or become obsolete. By being picky about where you spend your hard earned dollars and by being vocal about your choices, you have made a difference in the mammoth job of changing the current economic system. Minimalism didn’t do that, conscious, ethical shopping did that.
In my mind minimalism and reducing our overall consumption are necessary steps in curbing our consumption addiction. But it will also be advantageous for us to be cognizant of the rest of our spending so that we make sure we get the most bang for our buck. We need to use both of these philosophies to create real change. This is more important than ever because we do not live in a capitalist society anymore. What we have here in the US is corporate socialism. Mega corporations have an unfair advantage in the market because they have people firmly entrenched in the fifth arm of the government. As Annie Leonard stated in The Story of Stuff…
In the United States there are about 900 advisory committees that provide peer review of scientific research, develop policy recommendations, and serve other functions to support good governance.
These committees influence legislation and policy in this country and corporations have a presence in all of them. There is no free market or open competition, not when the deck is stacked that way. We need to become activists for change in making sure corporations are not directing important policy, especially when it comes to the environment and human health. This can be done in large part by backing good legislation and making lots of noise about bad products and practices. The other thing we can do is funnel our money to companies who make ethical choices and who use their profits to better the world. It will not go unnoticed!
Even people who don’t have the time to volunteer, petition, picket, etc. can support ethical companies and causes by using their dollars as a voting mechanism. It is the easiest form of activism and frankly it drives me a little batty that more people don’t step up and USE the leverage that we all have. Why is the average mom okay with buying some Stouffer’s stuffing boxes and Nestle chocolate bars knowing that those dollars will go towards pushing formula in third world countries and to enslaving older children in labor? Would they feel the same if the boxes had pictures of malnourished babies and 12 year olds forced to work on cocoa plantations for 8 hours a day? We need to stop believing in the marketing and the pretty packaging and start finding out where our money is going and what it supports. Then we can decide who is worthy of our money and who is not.
A wonderful book that addresses this issue is Big Green Purse – Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World by Diane MacEachern. I have known Diane from green listservs and the blogging community for awhile and she is one incredibly smart cookie… plus her book ROCKS. It doesn’t encourage senseless spending or rampant consumerism but it does address the fact that everyone is still going to spend money on the products that matter to them. If money talks then we need to be aware of what our money is saying. It is all about using the power of our purses to affect change.
In the beginning chapters there are some great examples of how people influenced large companies to change their policies and/or product formulations to meet the demand of more ethical and aware consumers. It shows us that change is possible. I also like that is has a very measurable action plan in the book to decide to shift $1000 of your annual spending to green products. Its all about taking the products you already buy and will continue to buy and finding a better alternative. The first chapter goes over eco problems that can be addressed by reducing what you consume in the first place. The second chapter shows you how to evaluate companies and avoid greenwashing so you can narrow in on the best companies and products. Chapters 3-12 go through all the areas where you can shift your spending… cars, clothing, food, cosmetics, personal care products, cleaners, etc and shows you what to look for and what to avoid so you can make the best choice.
It is an important subject and an important book. I highly recommend it!
Pictured above: My fave Shopping cart baskets.